Victory over Wolfpack would go a long way

Cruising to three straight ACC victories by no fewer than 14 points is a rare feat, especially for Virginia. The last time the Cavaliers did it was Ralph Sampson's senior season, 30 years and four coaches ago.

Dominating three straight ACC opponents was surely more difficult three decades ago, when the league was made up of eight basketball-centric schools. But even in a watered-down ACC, stringing together convincing victories over Florida State, Virginia Tech and Boston College is evidence that Virginia (14-5, 4-2) is continuing its progression under fourth-year coach Tony Bennett.

When Virginia plays host to No.?19 N.C. State (16-4, 5-2) on Tuesday night, it will be the first time the Cavaliers have faced a ranked team and a chance for Bennett to end a long losing streak. After beating No.?18 Georgia Tech three years ago in his second ACC game, Bennett has lost his last 10 games against ranked conference foes, with four of the last five decided by three points each.

Up next
No. 19 N.C. State at Virginia
When » Tuesday, 7 p.m.
Where »
John Paul Jones Arena,
Charlottesville, Va.

The matchup is meaningful considering less than a year ago N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried questioned the NCAA tournament credentials of Virginia, citing strength of schedule and pointing out that the Cavaliers were 0-6 against the league's big three (Duke, North Carolina and Florida State).

"I think Mark was just trying to make a case for his team," Bennett said. "This is a new year."

In this new year, Gottfried also is feeling pressure. Last year's trip to the Sweet 16 set up high expectations as four starters returned, joined by talented freshmen Rodney Purvis and T.J. Warren. But after handing top-ranked Duke its first loss, the Wolfpack have lost consecutive midweek road games at Maryland by one point and at Wake Forest by two.

"We're at a point where we have to take the next step and be able to win difficult, tough road games and tough atmospheres, which I'm sure we're gonna have Tuesday," Gottfried said.

According to Gottfried, N.C. State didn't react well to the Duke victory. Four days later, the Wolfpack scored (50) and shot (31.1 percent) season lows in the loss at Maryland. This time, Gottfried has the same concern as N.C. State is coming off an uplifting 91-83 victory Saturday over North Carolina in which the Wolfpack broke a 13-game losing streak against their rival.

"When we beat Duke, there was so much attention around it [that] it was hard for us to get past it," Gottfried said. "I just hope players understand better that in this league you have to mentally move on quickly."

The high-powered offense of N.C. State and the pack-line defense of Virginia will present an interesting contrast of styles and tempo. While N.C. State ranks first in the ACC in points scored per possession (1.14), Virginia allows the fewest points per possession (0.85). The biggest challenge, according to Gottfried, is forgetting Saturday's win.

"This is uncharted waters. We've got a lot of guys who have never been in these type situations, and we're learning," Gottfried said. "We've got a monster-type game against a really good opponent on the road. There's not time to bask in any glory."